To gamify, or not to gamify – Kyle Scholz

Gamification seems to be all the rage in higher education – the prospect of transforming the learning experience by amending game-based tools such as points, leaderboards, or badges, all in an effort to help students learn, certainly sounds intriguing. If all it takes to make students come to class and do the work is to give them a badge, then why not?

And yet however alluring the prospect sounds, it’s never that easy. I always go back to the famous words of Mary Poppins – “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. How are you treating the implementation of gamification into your course? Is it to act as a form of sugar to help the medicine (the course content) go down easily for students? Or is it intended to stand on its own and work in conjunction with the course content as to motivate and engage students?

When gamification is seen as sugar to the course’s medicine, what is likely happening is that course content that is perceived as dry or challenging is ostensibly remedied with gamification so that students are focused on achieving points or badges, instead of actually learning the content that is being taught. While yes, they may do the work more so than before gamification was applied, it’s difficult to say whether or not they are learning more.

What can be instead considered is applying game-based learning principles to new or already existing activities/task in the course, in order to find ways to motivate and engage students better. What are these game-based learning principles? A number of scholars have discussed the elements of games that are applicable to learning. Prensky (2001) for example, lists a number of elements of games that are meaningful for learning:

  • fun,
  • play,
  • rules,
  • goals,
  • interactivity,
  • outcomes and feedback,
  • adaptability,
  • win states,
  • conflict and competition,
  • problem solving, and
  • representation and story (Prensky, 2001)

Other scholars have constructed similar lists, but have also then made direct correlations between the game element and their benefits:

Important game elements and their presupposed benefits (Vandercruysse et al., 2012)

Game elements Presupposed benefits
fun or enjoyability enjoyment, pleasure, motivation
rules structure
goals and objectives motivation, stimulation
interaction/interactive being active, interacting with others
outcomes and feedback learning, informing about progress
problem solving/competition/challenge adrenaline, excitement, creativity
representation/story/fantasy/context emotion (enthusiasm), stimulation

Take a look at these game elements, and think about which ones you may already include in your own teaching practices – you may find you already are incorporating elements of game-based learning, and perhaps simply need to be more intentional about how they are adapted into your activities in an effort to motivate and engage students.

I’d encourage you to watch the following screencast. Mark Morton (CTE) and myself created this for a game-based learning/gamification workshop, and it provides a fairly concise overview of what gamification and game-based learning are, and ways in which it can be applied in your own teaching.

We also have a tip sheet that provides some practical examples of gamification tools that are (relatively easily) adaptable to your own teaching.

Stay tuned for an announcement of our upcoming 2018 Educational Technologies Week at the CTE. We’ll have a game-based learning/gamification workshop that will allow you to delve deeper into this topic and apply it to your own teaching.

Works Cited

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Vandercruysse, S., Vandewaetere, M., & Clarebout, G. (2012). Game-based learning: A review on the effectiveness of educational games. In M. M. Cruz-Cunha (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Serious Games as Educational, Business, and Research Tools (pp. 628–647). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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